The Post Office Does “Deep Package Inspections” Without Privacy or Free Speech Problems

March 3, 2009

Free Press in its latest report: “Deep Packet Inspection: The end of the Internet as we know it?” continues to mischaracterize “reasonable network management” practices (that ensure quality of service and filter out harmful traffic like spam, viruses, and other malware) as bad practices and misuse of technology that threatens users’ privacy and freedom of speech.

It is inaccurate and unfair to mischaracterize reasonable network management this way.

The Free Press report uses a common analogy about “deep packet inspection” (DPI) technology. It analogizes that use of DPI technology by an ISP would be like the post office going beyond reading the address of a letter and looking inside the letter to read the private contents.

  • This partial analogy is designed to lead people to believe that DPI is only a privacy-invading technology without any merit or useful function.

Let’s explore the letter and post office analogy more fairly and accurately.

  • Most people know that letters and packages are screened/filtered by the Post Office, FedEx, UPS etc. for harmful or illegal materials.
    • Since it is illegal for people to mail: firearms, explosives, illegal drugs, harmful chemicals or biological agents, etc. these companies routinely screen and filter these packages with x-rays and other sensing technologies to interdict these illegal and harmful packages in transit before they can do harm.
    • Given Free Press’ strong opposition to DPI’s potential for invading privacy, it is curious why Free Press does not acknowledge, or object to, the Post Office routinely employing “deep package inspection” technologies.
    • It is also curious why Free Press has never accused (to my knowledge) the Post Office or the delivery companies of using their deep package inspection technologies to invade users’ privacy or limit free speech.
  • Most people also know or assume that communications networks routinely filter and interdict spam, viruses, malware, denial of service attacks and other illegal and harmful uses of Internet networks.
    • It is curious that in discussing “deep packet inspection” Free Press almost exclusively characterized it in a negative light and ignores the postive and necessary aspects of deep packet inspection technology.
    • Finally, it is curious that Free Press and others that oppose reasonable network management do not acknowlege that broadband companies (telecom, wireless and cable) companies have long been subject to strict privacy laws (sections: 222, 551 & te ECPA).

In short, an objective and straighforward analysis of DPI technology shows that it has many legitimate and important benefits. Common sense also indicates that broadband companies are no more likely to incorrectly use legitimate inspection technologies than any physical delivery service.

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